Although I have never been to Maui nor visited Lahaina, many of my friends vacation there annually.
Hawaii is a beautiful destination, and the real estate makes it one of the wealthiest spots in the world. None of the families who awakened on August 8th could have imagined the total devastation and loss that would occur that day.
We watched in horror as a wind-driven inferno engulfed cars, homes, and buildings and destroyed the entire town. Lives were lost and people’s entire life holdings were destroyed in a mere few hours of raging fire.
At the end of the day, people had lost everything they had, including their loved ones. It was yet another reminder of how quickly wealth and possessions can be gone.
This is on Paul’s mind as he closes his first letter to Timothy. A reminder to the wealthy regarding the fleeting nature of their riches.
"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life." - 1 Timothy 6:17-19
In this passage, Paul addresses the attitude we should have towards wealth and what actions the wealthy should take.
So here goes!
Paul reminds us that all that we have is a gift from God and the fruit of His grace.
Wealth is the fruit of labor, a principle established by God in Eden (Genesis 1:27-31).
It is the grace of God that has created a world where we can work and enjoy the fruits of our labor. It is God who gives us all that we have.
Those who are arrogant (vs. 17) see things differently, viewing their wealth as a source of pride and self-worth. This is not an uncommon view among the wealthy—and, according to Paul, a troubling quality.
Genuine humility gives the wealthy a godly perspective of their possessions.
They know that they are fleeting, and intuitively identify with the words of Job, “the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away: may the name of the LORD be praised.”
Lacking this humility, the arrogant place their trust, confidence, and hope in their material wealth.
Those who live in humility and with a true godly perspective can enjoy their riches.
This is not in a hedonistic, self-satisfying obsession, but rather an attitude of thankfulness and awareness that a deeper joy is found in relationship to Christ.
Those who live in arrogance and without a godly perspective are often seeking greater wealth, as described by Paul in I Timothy 6:1-10.
Over the last forty years, I have had the opportunity to see wealthy people who are dedicated Christ followers, embody these three aforementioned qualities:
- The heart surgeon and professor of Cardiology at Wake Forest who told me that what I was doing was so much more important, because I had the “hearts of children” in my hands.
- The commercial real estate developer who had the quietest ride across Romania, ……because his knees were up around his ears in the little, tiny car I drove.
- The home builder who visited us in Poland where I discovered him in a homemade “fort” playing with my five-year-old son.
- The attorney and law partner who I found watching Christian cartoons with my three-year-old son. That same attorney is teaching business law to my son in a Christian University twenty-five years later!!!
- The businessman who asked me to pray because he had experienced a serious downturn and wasn’t sure how to meet his giving commitments.
These and others have taught me humility, perspective, and real joy— the attitudes Paul advocates in this very passage. This kind of attitude leads to godly actions.
Paul urges the wealthy to not only have a godly attitude, but he also exhorts them to do good deeds.
Paul suggests that there is a different kind of wealth and riches—wealth and riches in good deeds. The wealthy are called to acts of kindness towards others.
This is not the kind of “good deeds” that we often see splashed across the news, touting enormous financial gifts or philanthropic gestures. Rather, these are deeds done to bring others joy and lighten their load (Leadership Life-Style, Ajith Fernando, pg. 158).
During my years living in Poland (1991-2001), I traveled throughout Europe developing Every Generation Ministries in Belarus, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Ukraine.
On one such trip, I was exiting a train when a young group of men crowded around me and basically mugged me, taking my notebook computer with all my work files, Bible studies training materials, and my notebook itself. I was left crushed and feeling so very foolish.
A few days later I received an e-mail from a good friend in California who was a long-time EGM supporter. In the e-mail he instructed me to get a new notebook computer, and that he and his wife were sending the funds to cover the purchase to the mission.
Finally, the wealthy are called to generosity, using their wealth to further the gospel of Jesus Christ and ease the suffering of others.
The decision to limit one’s personal expenditures for the purpose of being generous to others is a theme woven throughout Scripture.
I have written elsewhere on generosity and so will not belabor the point here:
- Generosity and the Harvest (2 Corinthians 9)
- Generosity Begets Generosity (II Corinthians 9)
- Give Generously and Cheerfully (II Corinthians 9)
But, suffice to say, generosity to God and others is an investment in eternity and establishes a foundation for an eternal future of joy and blessing.
The passage closes with a reminder that living with this kind of attitude and acting in generosity and goodness is real living.
A life focused on the accrual of more and more wealth with a haughty attitude, lacking generosity and goodness to others is really no life at all.
Reading this passage and this blog leads us to realize the challenges that wealth and riches pose for the Christ follower.
We may subtly fall into the trap of thanking God that I am not counted among the wealthy. However, over the years I have come to understand that wealth is often misunderstood.
When you stand in a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo, you realize that you are counted among the wealthy. When you walk into your medical clinic, health care facility, or hospital, you realize you are counted among the wealthy.
When you read this blog on a computer, you are among the privileged. When you own two bicycles in your village, you are numbered wealthy.
In so many ways the “wealthy” are many in number, like the little white-haired lady who came up to me at an event in Pasadena, where I was sharing about our efforts to provide Bible teaching curriculum in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
She was certainly not wealthy by most standards. She was on a fixed income—a widow living in a simple one-room apartment. She told me she had lived through the entire Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and could hardly believe the opportunity to minister freely in the former Soviet Union.
She took my hand and asked to pray for me, and in a beautiful, good deed, she slipped into my hand an envelope. We opened it in the office the next day and it was a gift of $5,000.
This is the kingdom life, to be enjoyed for eternity.